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Alonso ready to pounce if Verstappen makes a slow start in Monaco
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Fernando Alonso has targeted victory in Monaco (David Davies/PA)
Fernando Alonso has targeted victory in Monaco (David Davies/PA)

Fernando Alonso hopes he can take advantage of Max Verstappen’s inconsistent starts to end his 10-year wait for victory at Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix.

The evergreen Alonso, 41, lines up behind Verstappen following an exhilarating qualifying session in the sun-cooked principality.

Home favourite Charles Leclerc qualified third on the grid for Ferrari but was later demoted to sixth after he was penalised by the stewards for blocking Lando Norris. Lewis Hamilton, in his revamped Mercedes machine, moves up from sixth to fifth, with team-mate George Russell eighth on the grid.

Alonso took his last pole at the 2012 German Grand Prix, but he looked destined to end his 3,961-day losing streak when he moved to the top of the time charts in the closing stages.

Verstappen was the only driver who could spoil the dreams of Alonso, and his Aston Martin mechanics, who had already celebrated wildly in the belief that their man had captured pole.

Verstappen trailed Alonso by two tenths before he delivered a mesmerising final sector on the most famous streets in Formula One to take pole by just 0.084 seconds.

“We will try to win,” said Alonso, who claimed his 32nd and final victory in Spain a decade ago. “We need some help from Max but I am not going to take it for granted.

“It’s a very short run into Turn 1. We normally have a good start. Max is a bit inconsistent, so maybe he has one of those bad ones tomorrow.”

Qualifying is crucial in Monte Carlo given how troublesome it is to pass at this tight and twisty venue.

However, the omens are encouraging for Alonso. In the last seven years, the driver starting from second has won on more occasions than the man on pole.

The last time Alonso started a race in Monaco from the front row – back in 2007 – he won. Rain could also be a factor.

A victory for Alonso would be a popular one in the sport. But Verstappen’s team has won every race this season, and the Dutchman’s Red Bull is so often imperious over the course of a race distance, rather than a single lap.

“I would like to see Fernando win,” admitted Verstappen. “But I would like to win, too, so we will see.

“In qualifying you need to go all out and risk it all. My first sector wasn’t ideal in my final lap and I was a bit cautious, but then I knew I was behind so in the last sector I just gave it everything I had, clipping a few barriers along the way.”

Further back, Mercedes were banking on their much-anticipated upgrade providing them with a springboard to challenge the grid’s all-conquering Red Bull team. But on its grand unveiling here, Hamilton was at odds with his new car.

Hamilton, who earlier crashed in final practice on Saturday following a mistake at the right-hander Mirabeau, missed the chicane in the opening stage of qualifying – only avoiding an early bath with his final lap – before scrambling into Q3 after he grazed the wall at the swimming pool chicane.

“Man this car is hard to drive,” said the seven-time world champion, who also reported there was “something wrong” with his right-rear suspension.

He eventually finished 0.360 secs behind Verstappen, with team-mate Russell six tenths adrift.

Sergio Perez is Verstappen’s closest championship challenger, but the Mexican will start Sunday’s 78-lap race at the back of the pack after he crashed out of qualifying.

The running was just six minutes old when Perez – 14 points adrift of Verstappen in the standings – carried too much speed through the opening Sainte Devote corner and thudded into the wall before coming to a standstill in the middle of the circuit.

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